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Do you need to let the police search your vehicle?

Traffic stops are usually just frustrating and inconvenient. Typically, a police officer pulls you over, keeps you on the side of the road for a while, asks you a few questions and then writes you a ticket. However, some drivers get detained by police for far longer or face more than just a citation.

If an officer asks to search your vehicle, they can keep you on the side of the road for some time and maybe even arrest you. They might have to call for another officer to come, forcing you to wait. Do you have to let them search your vehicle during a traffic stop? 

Drivers can typically refuse a vehicle search

Police officers have training on when they can conduct searches. The officer who stopped you knows that they need permission, a warrant or probable cause to search a vehicle.

If they want to search the vehicle without your permission or approval from a judge, they need to have some kind of explainable belief that you have broken the law. Spotting what they think is an illegal firearm in your vehicle could be the probable cause they need to search. So could what looks like an open bottle of liquor or drug paraphernalia.

If an officer does not have probable cause, then their only option to search your vehicle is to get your permission. If you tell the officer no, they typically cannot search it unless they get a warrant. However, if they arrest you for an offense, they can search the vehicle for evidence related to that offense after arresting you.

Knowing whether a search was legal or not can help you plan your criminal defense strategy.